Canine Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a blanket term used to cover fitting or convulsions, sometimes called epileptiform fits, although "epilepsy" is also a specific disorder. In some breeds there is a form of epilepsy (primary epilepsy) that is inherited but there are many cases of epilepsy that are not primary.

There are two subdivisions of fitting (or convulsions) - petit mal and grand mal. With petit mal fits there may be almost nothing to see, as the dog can range from appearing slightly dazed/switched off/vacant looking for as little as a few seconds to being groggy and a bit tottery. However, similar symptoms can occur with some heart problems, for example. Petit mal fits are, anyway, only serious if they occur much of the time. Grand mal fits are very obvious, with loss of consciousness, falling down if the dog was sitting or standing when the fit started, paddling of legs, frothing at the mouth, sometimes loss of bodily functions and voiding of urine and faeces, sometimes the neck and head drawn back and the body arched, chomping of jaws, sometimes howling. A grand mal fit can last as little as a few seconds and as long as ten to twenty minutes, and sometimes one fit runs into another which is called "status epilepticus". Status epilepticus is always very serious and requires immediate veterinary attention. It can lead to death. A dog can have more than one fit close together without it being status epilepticus (in the latter condition the dog does not even start to come out of one fit before another one starts) but this would call for urgent veterinary attention anyway.

There may be signs prior to a fit that it is about to happen. The dog may be restless and anxious, seek attention or start some other behaviour. Sometimes another dog in the family will recognise that a fit is about to start, just as some dogs do with epileptic people.

When a fit ends the dog may quickly recover its normal behaviour, get to its feet, and seem perfectly all right, or it may have an "aftermath". This can last several hours or even a day or more and may include restlessness, anxiety, pacing, ravenous hunger, or even what may appear to be aggression such as biting at anything within reach (including furniture), or withdrawal.

There are several behaviours (usually listed as "behavioural problems") which could well have epilepsy as the underlying cause. These include shadow chasing, tail chasing, rage syndrome, and any other behaviour where the dog seems to switch off mentally to anything other than the behaviour. Many of these behaviours may be called obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD).

Epilepsy can be due to a wide range of causes, including inherited canine epilepsy, liver problems, kidney problems, hypothyroid, and allergic reactions or sensitivities to foods and other environmental factors, as well as to conditions affecting the brain such as meningitis, tumours, encephalitis, and trauma (If fitting started following known trauma give the homeopathic remedy ARNICA 6x, twice daily for a month). Vaccine damage is a real possibility, especially as a cause of encephalitis and hydrocephalus. Poisoning is another possible cause. Dogtor J (see link below) has also found other possible causes such as viruses and lack of sunlight.

Allergies/sensitivities are well worth looking into, particularly with regard to food and chemicals. For suggested changes to diet, go to, where you will find some suggested commercial foods and a home-made elimination diet. It is particularly important to remove all grain (any cereal such as wheat, rye, barley, oats) and soy products as they are often a major cause of adverse reactions. If you are preparing home cooked food, do not microwave it. If possible, have everything organic. Also avoid any foods containing the herb rosemary, as this can cause fits. In fact, it is best to avoid any foods that contain herbs, because herbs are not meant to be ingested at every meal every day.

If the suggestions on the above site are too difficult, you could work on a three day exclusion diet with a single type of meat and vegetable on each day and not repeated until the fourth day. Best to avoid beef and vegetables in the Solanum family (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and sweet [Bell] peppers) completely with this form of rotation diet. This does not necessarily remove all foods your dog may be intolerant of, but it does deal with problems that are caused by intolerance to frequently ingested foods.

Remove all chemical products such as flea collars (the one place to put a flea collar is in the vacuum cleaner bag), Vapona strips, and insect sprays; do not give any treatments for fleas/lice either to the dog or in its living accommodation; avoid household cleaning products; and wash the dog's bowls in hot water with no soap or detergent. If the dog has been eating out of plastic bowls, change to stainless steel or ceramic. Give the dog bottled water. After ten days, if there have been no further fits, you can start re-introducing, one by one and only one each week, those products that you feel are absolutely necessary to life. As regards vaccines, the manufacturers state in their product information that vaccines should only be given to healthy animals. A dog that is having fits (or is being treated for fits) is not healthy and should not be vaccinated.

New carpets are extremely high in toxic chemicals, as are many pieces of upholstered furniture. Most types of paint are also highly toxic, as are wood preservatives.

Conventional treatment of fitting is usually by giving phenobarbital (at least to begin with), but no treatment is usually given until it is obvious there is a problem. One fit does not make a problem; it is possible for there to be only one fit and to start an animal on long term drug treatment for something that might not occur again is not beneficial. Phenobarbital can lead to liver damage, as can the other anti-epilepsy drugs. In most cases treatment will only be given if the dog has a fit more often than once a month.

In alternative treatment of epilepsy, acupuncture has been found to help in some cases, as has homeopathy (see a homeopathic vet). EFT could also be very useful (click here for more information)

In the U.K. there is the Canine Epilepsy Support Group which produces a quarterly Newsletter with lots about alternative therapy for canine epilepsy. There are four veterinary surgeons on the Group's panel. The address of the Secretary is
Mrs Anne Morley, Seaholme, 21 Sea Lane, East Preston, nr. Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN16 1NH
Tel: 01903 784263. Website:

There is also The Phyllis Croft Foundation For Canine Epilepsy (reg charity No. 1075076). Website:

Sometimes there is a trigger that occurs before each fit. With one of our hounds it was frantically eating grass, following which she would retch and then go down in a grand mal fit. A friend's dog always had a fit following a sudden movement such as leaping up to rush to the door when there was a visitor. It is not that these things caused the fits but that they always occurred immediately prior to a fit, hence the trigger. In true epilepsy, the dog goes from sleep into a fit. If a dog is standing or sitting before it goes into a fit, it does not have true (primary) epilepsy. Which is not to say that every dog that goes from sleep into a fit does have true epilepsy.

Fitting is terrifying for the humans having to stand by and watch; there is probably nothing that makes one feel so helpless. There is nothing that one can do, apart from moving objects out of the way so that the dog cannot hurt itself, or otherwise making sure it cannot come to harm. If you have a number of dogs, it is safest to remove the others as they will often attack a fitting dog, and it would be sensible to make sure that a dog prone to fits is kept separate from other dogs when they cannot be constantly supervised. Also be careful when a dog is coming out of a fit that you or other family members are not bitten.

There is an ongoing Irish wolfhound seizure study by the IW Foundation (see below) which has found that four years of age is the maximum at which epilepsy starts, and hypothyroid has not been a cause in any of the hounds entered in the study. An article on Seizures - What To Do and How to Maintain an Affected Animal by Anne Janis can be found on

Links The Irish Wolfhound Foundation Seizure Study page  The Canine Epilepsy Support Group website (U.K) A source for information, support, treatments and solutions for veterinarians and owners of dogs with epilepsy A site geared towards helping veterinarians and owners in the understanding and treatment of canine epilepsy. DogtorJ's site on the primary causes of epilepsy, etc. The Epil-k9 site - All Breed Canine Epilepsy List & Canine Epilepsy Resources  The Canine Epilepsy Network site

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Updated 8/29/2015